Wanda Maximoff and the Infinity Sadness: A review of Wandavision (spoilers)

WandaVision' Trailer, Cast, Release Date, Plot, News, Details
Image from Esquire It was not a simpler time. It just looked that way. Just like what is happening in this picture.


On the cusp of Marvel releasing their second canon television addition to the MCU( Netflix and Hulu stuff no longer if ever did apply), the Falcon and Winter Soldier, it’s important to remember that Wandavision was not intended to be the first chapter in the fourth phase. Sam and Bucky’s new impending misadventures were meant to be the start of a post-Thanos world.

Instead, Feige and co. figured that Wandavision was more finished a product than Falcon and Soldier so Wanda and Vision’s return to the MCU was first up to bat. Being the first of an ambitious and sure to be highly scrutinized era for the Marvel Cinematic Universe also put extra pressure on what was expected from audiences when it came to setting up what the future of this universe would be building up to.

Iron Man, the first ever entry into the MCU didn’t feature what would be the narrative crux of the first portion of its universe, the Infinity Stones. It wasn’t until the fourth installment, Thor, that a hint of that larger picture came into play. Thanos, the purple man behind those infinite McGuffins, first showed up in the sixth installment in a cameo for the Avengers. So, there is precedent for Marvel to take its time with drawing out the ultimate purpose of what comes next.

So, fans and their wildly speculative natures, propelled by the MCU openly encouraging and occasionally rewarding the theorizing, should have restrained themselves more in the hopes that Wandavision was going to tease the big picture of not just phase 4 but the saga that will presumably make up phases 4-6, maybe onto 7 for all we know.

Fan Theories

Ultimately, Wandavision is a novel slow burn examination of Wanda Maximoff, who ultimately becomes the literal Scarlet Witch, a title that she never had before despite taking on an appearance that already approximated it. Her coping, denying and then accepting the reality of Vision’s passing from Thanos’ hand in Infinity War and what comes next in her story.

Make no mistake, Wandavision does groundwork for future MCU installments and there was never any doubt of that. Wanda’s appearance and role in Dr Strange and the Multiverse of Madness and a grown up Monica Rambeau’s role in Captain Marvel 2 and beyond is very much established. Secret Invasion and maybe even the next Ant-Man might also be given some build up due to the appearence of a Skrull at the end and Jimmy Woo’s mere presence. Darcy Lewis, who appeared in the first two Thors might also tie in with next year’s Thor: Love and Thunder but not necessarily.

The fan response to the lack of fan theories vindicated or hoped for appearances reminds me of the discourse leading up to and during the release of Star Wars episode VIII: The Last Jedi. Due to the “mystery box” style of starting the story with something tantalizing and never sticking the landing that is J.J. Abrams specialty, he gave fans a lot to chew on with The Force Awakens, especially when it came to the identities of new protagonist Rey and new antagonist Snoke and what exactly Luke was doing on that Celtic island planet by himself.

Due to their being no pre-arranged vision and outline of how the Sequel trilogy would play out like both the Original and Prequel trilogies, the seat of the pants nature of writing for each episode allowed Rian Johnson, a truly creative film-maker as evidenced by Looper and Knives Out to throw one hell of a spanner into both what Abrams was considering for the trilogy and especially what fans were expecting.

For all of Johnson’s well-intended and even novel ideas about deconstructing what Star Wars had narratively been up until that point, it was mashed poorly into being a follow up for the Force Awakens and almost seemed to be a wrap up to the new story before the trilogy was complete.

The one area of mild disagreement I had with Last Jedi haters rather than fervent disagreement( sexism, entitled complaining,etc.) was that many fans were perhaps too caught up in what their theorized Last Jedi was going to be rather than what it actually was. Episode 9: the Rise of Skywalker was itself criticized for being a weaselly backtracker on episode VIII’s narrative and themes, love em or hate em, and being a movie that shoe-horned in fan theories from Force Awakens that didn’t really connect well as an overall narrative. The two big ones being Rey as Palpatine’s grand-daughter and even fan shipping desires like Rey and Kylo Ren getting together in some romantic sense.

Now, reception to Wandavision is far, far warmer across the board than it was with The Last Jedi. While fans might’ve been upset with few if any of their theorizing coming to fruition, it wasn’t to the same level of vitriol as episode 8 of Star Wars. From what I can recall, the two big ones in terms of fan’s hopes coming true were the appearences of Mephisto, Marvel’s very own Satan and Reed Richards, before he becomes Mr. Fantastic.

Due to the supernatural heritage of Wanda Maximoff and how Mephisto is a demonic tempter, it would make sense for that dark lord to be powerful enough to help along Wanda’s grief based fantasy world of having a happy life with Vision. Mephisto has a storied history of granting people deeply held desires though with an evil catch. Perhaps the most infamous example was Spider-Man: One more Day. That comic story arc had Peter Parker/ Spider-Man magically absolve his long-standing marriage and relationship with Mary Jane Watson, all so he can keep his very old Aunt May from dying.

Say what you will about that and I can imagine many of you did, but that was a demonstration of how terribly powerful Mephisto is as a character. Creating a dark fantasy world for Wanda to control to avoid the reality of what has happened to her and Vision seems very much in keeping with who Mephisto is. It would also introduce a formidable new foe for the MCU going forward.

Reed Richards, unlike Mephisto, is already confirmed to appear in the MCU as a Fantastic Four film is slated to appear down the road by 2023 at the earliest. Richards seemed much more likely to me to show up for that reason. Once Monica and Jimmy escape from the S.W.O.R.D. camp outside Wanda’s Westview as it expands for the first time, Monica claims to have a bioengineer friend of hers to help her out. Richards’ profession would suggest that cameo was coming up. Instead, an army Major that has never appeared in any Marvel material shows up with a vehicle that can help Monica, in theory, re-enter Westview.

I did feel crushed by their being no surprise or hoped for appearence in that moment. Considering the production timeline of Wandavision, it’s possible that the Fantastic Four wasn’t even acquired for Marvel through the Disney/Fox merger, let alone that any of the Fantastic Four had even been cast yet. Maybe I was expecting too much too soon but at the same time, the MCU has conditioned me and many others to think in this mindset. As much as you might enjoy the helping of Marvel this go around, you’re also just as attuned to anything that might tease future projects. Nick Fury’s cameo at the end of Iron Man changed how we perceive franchise films and now television has come along for the ride.

Review proper

As a stand-alone work, Wandavision like most MCU features past at least since the first Avengers is hampered by requiring some amount of knowledge on the overall universe and events of prior installments.

It helps that the MCU is so widely seen and many of its entries are among the most profitable films of all time. Chances are very good that you know what happened to the Vision in Infinity War and that Wanda Maximoff died and came back in Endgame, even if you hadn’t see it. Even without any knowledge of anything that has happened in the entire MCU, you could be drawn in to the show just by how it starts.

The first three episodes are intentionally devoid of the world outside the Westview Wanda accidentally created. Taking a curious note from the recent Fox X-Men films Disney now has in their possession, each episode has “Westview” jump into another decade and the style of TV Sitcom it entailed.

We start with the 50s in the vein of I Love Lucy. The 60s is directly based on Bewitched and the Dick van Dyke show. The 70s: Brady Bunch. 80s: Family Ties and Growing Pains. The 90s are curiously skipped and we enter the early 2000s with Malcolm in the Middle and finally the late oughts’/early 2010s in the style of I believe Modern Family.

The aforementioned first three episodes would be generally appealing to a newcomer, especially one with any amount of foreknowledge or interest in old sitcoms, which admittedly if you’re under the age of fifty is probably not that high. While foreknowledge of Wanda or Vision definitely helps along the mystery angle of what the hell is happening, just how different Wandavision is at the start from anything else in the MCU could be useful for ensnaring the uninitiated.

The show does explain in an appropriately melancholy fashion why Wanda, a woman in her 20s/early 30s would be so into sitcoms that span half a century. The reason is that her family back in civil war torn Sokovia use it as a way to both better understand English and American culture as they’re planning to eventually escape the war-torn nation to brighter pastures. Sadly, Stark’s manufactured weapons cut short one viewing of the Dick van Dyke show as well as her parent’s lives, leaving her and her brother Pietro in a ruined apartment.

The show plays with Wanda’s comic history of being both hero and villain, starting off in the latter alongside Pietro/Quiksilver as members of Magneto’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. They eventually become good mutants and part-time X-Men though they eventually become more renowned as Avengers members and solo heroes. That Wanda has been on both sides so to speak in the comics does help sell the idea of MCU Wanda being in a position no longer heroic. Her cinematic history also supports some amount of fall of grace.

Already mentioned was the loss of her parents with indirect help from Tony Stark, the future Iron Man. Then she loses her brother Pietro just as they become heroes for the first time fighting Ultron. Then she accidentally kills innocent people in Lagos, Nigeria saving Captain America from the bomb wielding assassin Crossbones. The subsequent “Civil War” within the Avengers which involves fighting and hurting Vision, whom she’s come to care about, doesn’t help. Finally, to save trillions upon trillions of lives from Thanos, she is forced to destroy the infinity stone within Vision which kills him. Thanos twists the knife by reviving Vision with the time infinity stone and ripping out the stone without breaking it. Wanda is given grave reprieve by being among the many snapped out of existence.

She is brought back by the surviving Avengers along with the other snapped and furiously fights to prevent another Thanos out of time from doing it all over again but worse. She single-handedly goes toe to toe with the purple titan and maybe could’ve defeated him had it not been for a giant ass ship with thousands of torpedoes. She gets justice for Vision through Thanos’ ultimate defeat at Tony’s hand and she is seemingly at peace. No she is not. Saving half the universe didn’t bring back the one person who seemingly knew her best and better loved her as much as her deceased family.

Before I knew what Wandavision was, I was hoping that it would be about the titular character learning to cope and move on from what happened in the Infinity movies, to find a new peace. I am very glad that is actually what it is about though I remain personally uncertain of how well Marvel stuck the landing.

The first portion of the series is having those on the outside like Monica Rambeau, daughter of Captain Marvel’s now deceased best friend Maria, Jimmy Woo from Ant-Man & the Wasp and Darcy Lewis along with the audience figuring out first what is happening. Once that has been established rather satisfyingly I’d say, attention naturally turns to how to resolve what Wanda has done and if Wanda or this new Vision can survive it. Of course, knowing Wanda will be a major character in Stephen Strange’s next adventure gives away knowing she will survive but what about Vision? Is he recoverable or more importantly, should he be recovered?

Wandavision dances around an issue that is more endemic to superhero comic book storytelling than anything else: the impermanence of consequence.

That largely revolves around the act of killing off characters. As far as I know, a hero or villain ever having a permanent comic death is all but impossible. What was once shocking and daring with the Death of Superman in the year of my birth 1993, became trite as more and more heroes were killed off to boost sales and attention.

With a cinematic universe where the characters of that live action realm can’t help but age as real time progresses, an opportunity arises to give far more dire stakes than before. Yes, Avengers Endgame does involve undoing a whole bunch of death from Infinity War, but there was never any doubt that those snapped weren’t gone forever. What was uncertain were those who would die that didn’t involve the infinity gauntlet. Vision was one of those heroes whose death could stay permanent, which meant that no matter what came next, there would be a permanent tragedy to what transpired.

Endgame found loopholes in bringing back two casualties of Infinity War that weren’t snapped. A version of Loki from the first Avengers manages to escape with the tesseract during one amusing snag in the Avengers’ time heist. That Loki will get a new, bizarre lease on life in his upcoming June series. Gamora, who was sacrificed reluctantly by her adoptive father Thanos for one of the Infinity stones gets herself unknowingly a second chance when her 2014 Guardians 1 self assists against her father in the final battle and leaves for parts unknown in a different time and not yet a Guardian.

I can accept those loopholes due to how creative they are. The Loki and Gamora we knew before are dead and will stay that way. Now we get to Vision who himself it seems might not be gone either thanks to the arrival of a figure late in the show.

White Vision, an antagonistic alternate version of the android from the comics, is brought in by Hayward, a villainous member of SHIELD’s replacement, S.W.O.R.D. This new Vision is programmed to liquidate anyone that would incriminate him in his involvement with Westview’s predicament, such as killing the magical Vision and Wanda. However, after a big Man of Steel lite fight between the two Visions, the magical Vision is able to convince Vision White that he shouldn’t be a mook tool for S.W.O.R.D. and essentially restores Vision’s history in the process. White Vision leaves Westview and is conspicuously absent for the rest of the final episode.

The implication is that this new Vision will actually give Wanda her love back, right after an emotional end to Westview essentially allows her to leave Vision and her magically created sons behind. I am hoping this is not what Marvel is intending as it would override the theme of Wanda moving on and into a bittersweet but better future as the Scarlet Witch. To further imply she might not have learned her painful lesson, the very last scene of Wandavision has Wanda in a lone cabin apparently hearing the voices of her magically born sons Billy and Tommy crying out for help, even though they should no longer exist.

I’m sure Doctor Strange 2 will delve into what this means but I don’t like the idea of Wanda actually finding a way to have her “family” back. Maybe I can deal with the sons’ return. After all, a grown up Billy becomes Wiccan, who in turn becomes one of Marvel’s most prominent gay characters. How could Marvel/Disney pass up an opportunity like that? That alone might be the one reason the series ends with insinuation that the boys may not be really gone. But that would be at the cost of undoing the most powerful message of Wandavision. Having a new Vision would be extra unfortunate for the sad but succinct message I thought was being addressed.

At the same time, Wandavision is part of a connected universe and Marvel is not done with Wanda or Vision for that matter. There needs to be some motivation for Scarlet Witch to have a reportedly big role in Multiverse of Madness. I wonder if perhaps it would not be better if Wanda was given an ending, an out. Maybe next year, her role will change my tune on how I feel now. Or maybe in truth it is yet more misdirection.

Misdirection is a common feature, on purpose or by accident in Wandavision’s narrative turns and that is perfectly suited for a mystery story. Early on, the “commercials” during the sitcom sequences gave the possibility that Wanda was in another twisted Hydra experiment, not dissimilar to the one that gave her the Scarlet Witch powers. That was very quickly proven wrong and none felt worse the wear for it. I don’t know if the omissions of fan hopes for Reed Richards or Mephisto also count as misdirection.

Right before Wanda learns that one of her fellow Westview residents is more than she seems and very much not a puppet of hers, we see a cicada on the window of that resident’s home. Fans were anticipating that as a sign that Mephisto was right around the corner as his first appearance in the comics was also masquerading as a fly. Nope, nothing to do with Mephisto but instead a pet I guess of malevolent, snarky witch Agnes/ Agatha Harkness.

Well, at least fans managed to be on the money with Agatha Harkness being involved, further helped by that character being more directly associated in the comics with Wanda, not as an enemy but actually as a friend and mentor. However, one of the Westview residents that act as pawns for Agatha was possibly the most underwhelming misdirection and a possibly huge missed opportunity for the MCU going forward.

Doctor Strange and to a looser extent Spider-Man: Far from Home have established the existence of a multiverse. The next Doctor Strange and likely the next Spider-Man will continue exploring this valuable resource of ideas for the MCU. Once an alternate version of Wanda’s brother Pietro shows up at her door midway through the series, played by Evan Peters, the Pietro/Quiksilver of the Fox X-Men series, the multiverse narrative seemed to explode into renewed focus.

However, the final episode reveals that in truth, this “Pietro” is instead a visually augmented resident of Westview who was under Agatha’s control and has no relation to the X-Men whatsoever, more a referential gag than anything else. This misdirection hits poorly as the idea of this being a Pietro transplanted from the Fox universe through both Wanda and Agatha’s power would’ve been much cooler, helped further solidify the multiverse’s importance down the road and comes across as a cop out.

In fact, the final episode takes the built up tension and mystery of the preceding eight episodes and deflates the tension by going in a direction that is just not as interesting as what could have been, while not feeling very cohesive. While the series ends on the note that Wanda’s unintentional possession of Westview was framed as a bad thing, one which she shows remorse for and Agatha is given a dark yet suitable punishment for her role in it, it again doesn’t feel like a complete resolution.

That is brought on by the mixed signals brought on by White Vision’s reprogramming and the possibility of Wanda’s sons being alive somehow, as mentioned earlier. It distracts from the emotional anchor that came with her Westview finally ending and is perhaps tied up in the show’s need to tease the future rather than just let it rest on its narrative. I’m not saying Wanda should leave the town totally alone and she isn’t as evidenced by Monica’s involvement.

In fact, Monica Rambeau is the one character who seems to have a cohesive resolution while still teasing her story to continue on. Like Wanda, she is also coping with loss. Right before she was snapped by Thanos, she was staying with her dying mother Maria in a hospital. Upon returning to life five years later, she awakens to a brave new world, one with her mother long dead, her godmother Carol ala Captain Marvel far away, making her more alone than before. She’s a great narrative foil to Wanda in one trying to find renewed purpose but in a much more helpful manner.

She is most defensive of Wanda despite her actions because in no small way she has been where she has been, though not compounded with multiple tragedies. Ironically, it is Wanda’s own terrible powers born of grief that gives Monica powers of her own and even the chance to one day be with Carol in a way she couldn’t before. I will say this much: Monica Rambeau has single-handedly made Captain Marvel 2 a more exciting prospect than before. I’m hoping this Autumn’s Ms. Marvel further reinforces that.

There was at least something to Wandavision that managed to land the right way for me. For all we know, Monica may become one of the MCU’s big new faces. She might even eclipse Carol herself. For all the ups and downs that came with a welcome experiment to the nearly thirteen year formula that is the MCU, it was nice to know that no matter the narrative inconsistency or payoff, there is some novelty to be had and to be promised as this universe persists for however long it can.

For me, it’s a rocky beginning, but it is a beginning, not an end. Maybe down the road future installments will make Wandavision’s own resolution more sweet than sour. It did however accomplish one thing of great importance at the end of the day: It kept my interest for the MCU alive and ready for more.

It’s ultimately more a good than bad first impression for the many, many things to come after the event that was Avengers Endgame.

Originally posted 2021-03-19 02:49:36.

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